Protect Your Investment: Stored Grain Management

November 6, 2015

Protect Your Investment: Stored Grain Management

Harvest is over or winding down for most area farmers and it has been a near perfect fall for harvest. I know a few farmers with poorly drained bottomland soils who are waiting for it to dry out or the soils to freeze so they can finish harvest will disagree with me, but for the most part it has been a good fall for harvest after a wet start in late September. Generally, yields have been good, crops have dried in the field reducing drying expenses, and there weren’t a lot of lodging problems to slow harvest.

With everything seemingly going right, what could possibly go wrong? The one thing that I’d caution farmers on now that crops are in the bin is to make sure they cool the grain. In years when a lot of the crop needed to be dried, this occurred naturally as fans were run to dry the grain, it also cooled it. But with a lot of grain going in the bin at or near safe storage moisture levels, the tendency may be to not run the fans as much as might normally be done.

Safe grain moisture levels for corn are 15.5% if sold or fed by spring, 14% if sold or fed before harvest next year, and 13% if grain will be stored more than a year. For soybeans, safe storage moisture levels are 14% if stored until spring, 12% if stored until next fall, and 11% if stored over a year. But moisture is just one part of managing stored grain to maintain grain quality.

You must also manage the temperature of the grain, even if the average moisture level in the stored grain is at or below the safe storage levels listed above. It has been difficult to cool grain much with our beautiful fall weather, but that suddenly changed. It is important to keep grain within about 10OF of the average outside temperatures until the grain is below 40OF. It is not necessary, or even a good idea to freeze grain, but ideally you would store it when it at about 35-40OF.

Do you remember the moisture that would form on the outside of your glass of iced tea last summer? That’s because of the difference in temperature between the glass and the air around it. Well, the same thing can happen in your grain bin if the grain and outside air temperatures are not close to the same temperature. Even at safe grain moisture storage levels, differences between air and grain temperatures will result in air movement and moisture migration in a bin.

You can avoid this problem by keeping grain temperatures within about 10OF of the average outside temperature. This prevents moisture migration and condensation in the grain, just the same as why you don’t get moisture forming on a glass of water that is at room temperature.

Besides preventing grain from going out of condition at these moisture and temperature levels, you also greatly reduce the possibility of insect activity in the stored grain.

To check condition of stored grain, position yourself outside, by the roof entry to your grain bin. Then have someone else on the ground turn on the fan. If that first blast of air coming out is fresh and cool, that’s a sign your grain is in good condition. But if the first air seems humid or smells musty, that’s a sign you have problems developing in your stored grain and need to take steps to resolve the problem.

The first step would be to continue aerating the grain and monitor the temperature and moisture levels until they reach the recommended guidelines. Then after the fan has been turned off a day or more, recheck the grain using the procedure outlined earlier. If the problem persists, consider feeding or selling this grain in the near future to avoid it going out of condition.

When entering a bin be sure you have a safety harness and rope... and you use them! Also have two people outside the bin that can pull you out or get help if you should become trapped in a grain bin. Grain bin safety is a whole different topic that I’ll talk about more next week.

For more information on stored grain management, contact your local Nebraska Extension office.